Chicago, IL — Rocky Wirtz needs to send some deep dish pizzas to the Minnesota Wild. For the second time in three years they helped the Chicago Blackhawks enter into the playoffs. Thank you Minny! The difference however is this time it was inevitable the Hawks would be in the post season back in 2011 it was not that sure.
As temperatures warm in Chicago so does the race once again for playoff positioning now that a birth has been clinched. The Blackhawks will be in a dog fight til the end, not for who they will play but for who will have home ice advantage. Their opponent a new one, new to the division and new to the playoffs the Colorado Avalanche will most likely draw the defending Stanley Cup Champs.
There has been much hand ringing of late among fans and the Chicago media with just cause, myself included. The Hawks have not been playing their best hockey by any stretch of the imagination since the calendar flipped to 2014. Then again, did they have to? The answer is obviously not.
The concerns are many. The Hawks have not played well against the Avalanche in the regular season with the Avs taking 4 out of 5 games. The Avalanche are coming in riding a hot goaltender Semyon Varlamov and we all know what happened a couple of years ago in the post season when the Hawks faced a hot goalie and were exited in round one by the Phoenix Coyotes and Mike Smith.
The Avalanche fans are jumping up and down to face the Blackhawks since they handled them so easily in the regular season. The obsession with the Hawks does not stop and with just the fans, their media and even head coach Patrick Roy are lock scoped on the Hawks. Before yesterday’s game against San Jose the media asked Roy was he watching an earlier Bruins vs Capitals game. His response was no we are only focused on the Blackhawks.
The Avalanche wants to pattern and see themselves as the next Blackhawks team. A group of young, skilled hockey players ready to make the next step, I guess the Hawks should be flattered isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery or something like that. There is an air of confidence coming from the mile high state is it unwarranted?
No, the Blackhawks by not being able to dispense with their pesky little brothers from the Rocky Mountain state have opened up a door for this belief and fueled their confidence. I remember hearing somewhere half of being is belief, meaning if you think you can compete and beat the best your half way there. What the Avalanche have no experience with yet is how much different the game is at the NHL playoff levels. It remains to be seen if they can make the adjustments.
The Hawks do want to gain home ice advantage not because the Pepsi Centers is an intimidating place to play, I think Blackhawks’ fans can challenge the Avs’ fans but because of the altitude. The Hawks are in good shape but if you are not used to that thin air it could make an impact and take a toll in a seven game series.
The theory also swings both ways except the Blackhawks have history to back up their beliefs that they can win a Stanley Cup because they have twice in the last four years. Where history goes against them is their quest to repeat in back to back years as the Stanley Cup Champs and here is where the challenges lye for our Hawks. The Hawks also need to remember they have been given first round exits in two of the last four years as well.
It’s not just the Avalanche that are totally focused on the Hawks it is every team that will be in the playoffs including the Boston Bruins who will no doubt be the Eastern Conference Champions again unless somehow Pittsburgh can figure out the wall of Chara. Also you can never discount the feisty Flyers.
Having such a huge target on your back maybe it’s a good thing that the Hawks are not playing their best, maybe just maybe it will give confidence to teams falsely. History is a great indicator of how things may unfold. It is not unfaultable but it is a good indicator.
The year that the Hawks went to the Stanley Cup in a full 82 game regular season their record was actually worse than the Hawks record is now. Hard to believe but true, as of today the Hawks 2014 record in March is 7-6-1 and in 2010 it was 6-7-2 yes a losing record. Regardless of the outcome of the Penguins game today the Hawks will end up no worse than .500.
Have I calmed some fears yet? No well chew on this, in the playoffs NOT the regular season these same Hawks for the most part were able to come back from facing elimination and overcame refereeing error in game 7 when Nik Hjalmarsson’s seemingly scored the winning goal and was disallowed for what we in Chicago are still not sure for. The team was able to gather themselves and come back and knock out their Original Six division foe mentors the Detroit Red Wings.
Not enough for you ok remember that 17 second thing that happened in Boston against probably the best defensive hockey team on the planet? If the Blackhawks could do that to the Bruins don’t you think they can do it again to any team?
Let’s not forget also in 2010 the 13 .6 seconds against the Nashville Predators, remember that game when Patrick Kane forced overtime and then Marian Hossa scored the OT GWG and turned the tide of the series and the Hawks never looked back as they went on to win the Cup.
Some fans think that this year feels a little like 2011 when the Hawks fell in the first round to the Vancouver Canucks sorry to bring up the bad memories. The difference is that the coaching staff and these Hawks or at least the core of the Hawks knows what they did wrong in 2011 and can correct that so it does not happen now.
Are the Hawks playing poorly now? Yes without question they need to find consistency to their game. Do you for one second believe that this team forgot how to close gaps, take away passing lanes and block shots because I don’t. This team has been through too much together and knows what it takes to win at the highest levels.
They also have a chance at making history for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings were able to go back to back in 1996-97 & 1997-98 and cement their legacy as perhaps the greatest hockey team in the modern cap era. Now that is a challenge that does not come along every day and one they have positioned themselves to possibly achieve.
If the Hawks need extra motivation they need look no further than the statue outside their own stadium. When in the United Center and you look to the rafters you see all the championship banners from a team wearing Red, Black and White – the Bulls. There are six championship banners hanging from 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 & 1998.
The Blackhawks have a ways to catch the Jordan lead Bulls team but they are a quarter of the way there already. This team is young enough to do it or at least make a good run. The Blackhawks also have similarities to those Bulls teams the greatest of which is the ability to close and ratchet up the killer instincts.
The only thing that can stop the Blackhawks is the Blackhawks. If they don’t play their best can they be beaten of course that is their greatest foe. Do I believe the Hawks can repeat with odds and every NHL team against them? Yes barring injuries. Why? Because this is a great team that is still only getting better with it’s young prospects, unwavering team leaders and crafty coaches. Will the road be easy? No but would you want it to be?
I once wrote in regards to the Detroit Red Wings when the Hawks were trying to catch them that one day the apprentice (Hawks) would best the masters (Wings) one day it is inevitable. Now that the Blackhawks are the masters will they one day be bested by an apprentice? Yes, but that day has not come yet as long as the Hawks play to their abilities and believe in themselves and each other and who are any of us to doubt them?
Cue the Dagger – Chelsea, Chelsea I believe.